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Washington Week With Gwen Ifill

News/Business. (2013) Successes and challenges faced by Congress and President Barack Obama over the first half of 2013. New. Season Premiere. (CC) (Stereo)




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Washington 14, U.s. 6, Us 5, Syria 4, Egypt 4, Obama 3, Benghazi 2, John Boehner 2, Afghanistan 2, Virginia 2, Gabby Giffords 1, Prudential 1, Joe Biden 1, Grover Norquist 1, Susan Davis 1, John Dickerson 1, Charlie 1, Bob Goodlet 1, Kqed 1, Year 1,
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  PBS    Washington Week With Gwen Ifill    News/Business.  (2013) Successes and challenges faced by  
   Congress and President Barack Obama over the first half of...  

    July 5, 2013
    8:00 - 8:31pm PDT  

gwen: we're halfway through 2013. so it's time to take stock of the president, of congress, of the world. tonight it's the "washington week" report card. >> we must act knowing that our work will be imperfect. gwen: as the nation celebrates its independence this week, we examine what democracy really looks like. it doesn't always move in a straight line. >> the senate will come to order. >> the house will be in order. gwen: and one side's virth is often the other's bitter defeat. >> we know the status quo is unacceptable. but we also know that there are many who will want to kill this bill. >> we're not interested in punishing people just for the sake of punishment. we're interested in rewarding good conduct. gwen: we're leaving afghanistan but crises loom in syria and egypt. and joblessness is declining
but not for everybody. >> the obama economy is producing slow economic growth, high unemployment and stagnant wages. >> still no jobs bill. still no budget agreement. gwen: after a shocking schoolhouse shooting, congress tackles gun violence. >> this is common sense. this is gun sense. gwen: but it only goes so far. >> help this be the moment when real change begins. gwen: our relations between congress and the white house permanently broken, and what do the american people have to say about that? joining thus holiday week, susan davis of "usa today." john dickerson of "slate" magazine and cbs news. david wessel of "the wall street journal." and jeff zeleny of abc news. >> award-winning reporting and analysis, covering hifflet as it happens -- history as it
happens, from our nation's capital this is "washington week with gwen ifill." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we went out and asked people a simple question. how old is the oldest person you've known? we gave people a sticker and had them show us. we learned a lot of us have known someone who lived well into their 90's. and that's a great thing. but even though we're living longer, one thing that hasn't changed, the official retirement age. the question is, how do you make sure you have the money you need to enjoy all of these years? >> additional corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by boeing. additional funding is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
once again, from washington, modiator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening and welcome to a special "washington week." we're six months into the president's second term and already the priorities and challenges are clear -- health care, jobs, immigration, gun violence, the economy, syria, afghanistan, egypt, and of course pure politics. how is the president doing and what about congress? a few weeks ago, charlie rose asked the president about some of this. and he volunteered that if he doesn't get the economy right, he won't get anything right. >> i think that the biggest challenge we face right now in addition to the ongoing challenge of national security is having recovered from the worst recession since the great depression. having dug our way out, with the economy now growing, how do we now go back to the issue
that led me to run for president in the first place? which is the fact that the economy's not working for everybody. gwen: that's as good of place as any to begin. david, is he getting anything right? is he getting the economy right? >> well, i think the president would very much like to look forward and say the recession is history. we've climbed out of the hole. and now we can think about these long-term issues like middle class wages and how do we improve our education system? but i think the reality is that we've had slow, halting growth for the last couple of years. and we still are very deep in the hole. so some things we're doing really well. housing is back. home sales are increasing. home prices are going up in most cities. auto sales are extraordinary. we're going to sell more cars this year than any year since 2007. >> employers are hiring. but not just enough to bring down the unemployment rate really quickly and despite some ups and downs the stock market is doing reasonably well.
up 15% this year. and one sign things are getting better is hear words from the federal reserve chairman saying i'm looking forward to the day when the economy doesn't need quite so much as the juice as the federal reserve has been injecting. gwen: which freaked everybody out. >> freaked everybody out. a masterpiece of communication. gwen: exactly. so sue, on the hill, so much of the conversation has been about the budget and about deficit cutting. and spending. cutting spending. is that the -- is that still the conversation? >> it's not right now. but it's going to be. we've taken a bit of a time-out on what had seemed like a congress -- the previous congress is full of these budget crises. and lurching from one to the next. because of a bit after reprieve, because of the fiscal cliff deal that they had earlier in the year, some of the questions that they'll need to address we're going to have another debt ceiling fight later this year. there's potentially going to be another argument over whether or not we're going to shut down the government at the end of september if we can't figure out how to fund the government at current levels. and we still have this thing called the sequester that's happening which is the across-the-board spending cuts that we've seen piecemeal fixes
to. congress seems to fix what they don't like about it. but there does seem to be sort of a growing consensus on capitol hill that those cuts are here to stay. gwen: we spent a long time talking about the sequester and fiscal cliff and these terrible things that were going to appen and they didn't really happen. >> no, they didn't. and cosmetic. we'll stop our travel. as we looked under the hood of this, these agencies including the i.r.s. and others were spending a ton of money on things they probably should not have been spending money on. impersonators, entertainment-like things but real effects of the sequester that we have -- don't have to look all that hard to find. i remember talking about six weeks ago to a mother in indiana who had to enter a lottery for a head start education program. her child did not make the cut for that. so there are some real effects that have happened out across the country. they just aren't as massive as predicted. >> the people who are affected are feeling it.
i talked to the housing authority in southern california where in order to avoid reducing the number of vouchers, they were raising the rent on people who make $10,000. but to the rest of the economy, it seemed -- shrugged it off. >> you asked gwen earlier about the conversation that's going on. and even when we were talking about the fiscal cliff and the sequestration, we were talking about sort of this era of stop gap budgeting. where we have these ferocious fights about a tiny little corner over here. it affects people. also people are getting meals on wheels. some cancer patients who are'getting the treatments they need because of the sequestration cuts. but that's still sort of over in the corner. the big questions about entitlements, tax reform, the grand stuff that has to get fixed to transfer this government and this economy from the -- even the new deal era to a more modern era, that conversation just isn't happening. and in part it's because the politicians can't get their act together and also you look at fouling, four fifths of the country doesn't want anyone to touch the entitlement programs. if you aren't touching the entitlement programs and cut as much as you can on everything
else, you are stuck. gwen: and part of this argument is this health care problem. the problem with implementing the health care plan which would hit another bump this week. in which the employer mandate was being pushed back for a year. so that's maybe not strictly the economy. but has its effect. >> the important thing about health care is health care cost growth has slowed. and that's made the deficit problem look more benign. which takes the pressure off. but i think you're right. it's just an incredible admission by the white house that they can't implement the affordable care act as they had hoped. by this little blog post by someone at the treasury, oh, by the way, the thing we've been talking about, this -- employers have more than 50 people will have to provide health insurance, we're putting that off for a year. leaving open the question, are other things going to be put off, too? gwen: here's something else which may be put off that's happening in congress. sue, where you spend your days and many nights. >> god bless you. gwen: so we don't have to. let's talk about immigration. this is one of the big issues which made its way through the
senate and waiting for what the house does but not at all resolved. >> no. there's this triumphant moment when the senate passed this bill because it was this historic moment and joe biden presided over and the -- and as soon as passed it reality check that it doesn't really mean much in the long -- gwen: even before it passed. >> i cannot be more pessimistic about immigration prospects. of comprensive immigration overhaul similar to what the senate does. its prospects in the house, i'm not going to say it's impossible. but as we sit here today, there's almost no clear trajectory to get it through the chamber. in any way that wouldn't fundamentally shake the speakership of john boehner or upend the political dynamics in the house as we know it. >> i think you're right. the question we have to ask ourselves, is john -- is john boehner willing to lose his speakership over immigration? one of his top advisors told me earlier this week why would he do so over a priority of the president's? he's much more focused on a
grand bargain and fiscal -- in the house, there's not. as house districts are drawn, the people generally are representing their constituents by opposing this. i traveled earlier this week to lynchburg, virginia. a town hall meeting on immigration. and other things. the chairman of the house judiciary committee, bob goodlet from virginia has been in the house since 1992 and opening the -- his meeting -- his discussion up. and it is clear where his constituents, at least those who attended that meeting are. they are opposed to the pathway to citizenship. that is what most members of the house strongly object to. what happened in the senate was there are 14 republicans who joined all the democrats in voting yes. how do they get that deal? they sweetened the pot significantly by spending billions of dollars on border security. and -- >> and public employment. >> exactly. and the house -- several house members think it's overkill and too expensive and not the right way to go but it includes that pathway to citizenship. and that's what is the most
objectionable part for most house republicans i talked to. >> it's only still in the senate. the idea the momentum of the senate passage would affect the house. it's still only a minority of the minority that joined on. only those 14 republicans who joined with democrats. we just don't see bipartisanship so 14 seems like it's a big deal. but if you look at those house districts, 234 of them. about 200 of them are districts in which it would hurt the incumbent republican more to vote for a comprehensive bill. and so that's the way in which you have some national republicans sort of represented by the 14 republicans in the senate, and then you have the house republicans who just follow -- a different country to them. and so their politics and what's driving them is much different than what was driving the senate. >> and some pressure from the business republicans are for it, grover norquist is for it. aren't they going to get some pressure? >> that's the open question. because there's no question regardless of what side you're on this debate is so different at this point than it was during the last major immigration debate. because the chamber of commerce is supportive of it.
some of these big republican perpacs, crossroads, and i'm not quite as pessimistic as sue. i don't know how they get there but the republican party can see its future and it's a potentially a short one if they don't do something. gwen: but i remember having this conversation after newtown that they had to do something about guns. that we had the moral authority of gash rell giffords. we had the -- of gabrielle giffords. we had the weeping parents campaigning. and as far as we know, that's not going anywhere. >> not at all. even the watered down version of what -- back -- as the year began they were talking about really sweeping things. even something as small as expanding background checks. that's not going anywhere. and these positions are hardened in. all week long, former congresswoman gabby giffords has been out traveling across the country. nevada. alaska. north dakota. she's going to new hampshire. and even firing a gun.
her and her husband, firing a gun at firing ranges to show that gun control in their mind is not taking guns away. so if it's come to that, you wonder what is the future of gun control? >> and i think -- in both of these cases the people who are passionate about stopping the change in the case both with gun control, the second amendment advocates, passionate about not having new laws, and also those who are passionate about securing the border, not having amnesty, are affecting the politics in these republican districts. they're more powerful than the big campaign, a lot of money has been spent on the immigration bill but the grassroots energy in an off year election when the grassroots energy is most important to your campaign, that's what's driving both of those same votes. gwen: let me ask you about another issue which seemed like it was bopping along and a very potent political issue, during the election. and then it came it a screeching halt this week. and inasmuch as student loans. -- and that was student loans. and was a big rallying point
for the -- #don'tdoublemyrate and this week the rates double. what happened? >> this is a comedy even in a sense. even when they agree they can't agree. gwen: yeah. >> what they're likely going to do is what was crafted by house republicans and a counterpart among senate republicans was taking a page out of president obama's budget. in terms of taking -- setting student loan rates out of congress' hands and tying it to free market rates and a complicated formula. but there's broad consensus that's the way it should be done. the president agrees with t but then suddenly when they even agree, they think this can't be a good idea. >> senate democrats jumped in. the villain here if you're going to use that -- a report card show, the villains are senate democrats, tom harkin, chairman of the health committee which oversees education policy in the senate was not willing to sign on to even what the white house wanted. but this student loan issue, they're still likely to come back after the recess and do something retroactively. but still a lot of time has
been spent on this. but this is not one case where even democrats will say on the hill, you can't blame republicans on this only. there's plenty of blame to go around. >> a symptom about this inability of congress to even do business on these little things. >> on a relatively small -- >> and doing something on entitlements or tax reform seems almost impossible. gwen: let's get out of washington and go abroad. for the president, this has been a dilemma about when do we intervene? when does the u.s. show up? when does it tell people what to do and not to do and backfire? we see it time and again and in egypt this interventionism no longer the thing here? >> it always was -- president obama always when he campaigned, senator obama when he campaigned talked about smart -- smart intervention. he always said about his opposition to the iraq war, that he wasn't against using u.s. military power. but he wanted to use it in a smart way. if you look at what he's tried
to do, is trying to get through messy situations, being smart. but there are no smart options. gwen: small arms rebels in syria. >> the problem -- the problem in the middle east in both syria and egypt, and even this was true in libya, is that once the u.s. puts its fingerprints on something, no matter now little it does, it creates unintended consequences. it's not just the powell rule, colin powell's rule that if you break it you bought it and engage a little and you own the own thing, that's part tch but it can -- part of it but it can interrupt what's going on the ground. and a certain outcome, this is because the u.s. backed it. and then we're not only engaged, but our engagement has fired up all sorts of people who would have otherwise perhaps not have been so fired up. gwen: the argument, does it have to be about national security? the n.s.a. arguments, security versus privacy, does anybody feel the need to engage? >> i don't think necessarily. but the n.s.a. is a prime example of how the u.s. is
viewed. abroad now. it wasn't all that long ago when we were talking about and writing stories about how the world is viewing this new administration as a bright light. we've seen how much people like us in some respects on this whole unfolding saga of the snowden ordeal. still on loe ose. a lot of countries are not exactly eager to help the u.s. out on this. so i think that this is still unfolding but not making this administration look very good. gwen: not interested in helping us out. or not interested in snubbing us, either. >> and increasingly, we're not as sensitive to oil coming from the middle east as we were. and that gives us more freedom to let these things play out. skirmishes in the middle east don't push up oil prices as much as they used to because there's so much supply. gwen: one thing that's been a common theme throughout this first six months has been distractions. the ways in which pure politics has driven what ends up happening. so let's talk about this a little bit. sue, on the hill, we spent more time talking about the i.r.s.
and benghazi, and the n.s.a. and privacy and tapping or gathering information from our phones, than almost anything else. and now is that just because it's -- it's more interesting to talk about distraction than to try to get policy done? >> i do think in -- particularly in the i.r.s. case there was such a sense of public outrainl to what we had initially learned and what the i.r.s. is doing. and presidents in second terms the things dog them or things out of their control or things that happen independent of the decisions they make, we do know that congressional republicans certainly in the house, and certainly on the i.r.s. issue, we've seen it on benghazi already. but they are just getting started on this i.r.s. issue. and even though we have not really seen anything reveltory that's come oust of the investigation in terms of tying it to the president and we haven't seen anything that's tied anything to the president -- to president obama, but there is a determination to make sure that every possible pathway is exhausted before they call it off. so it's not going to go away.
whether there's any substance to it i'm not even sure it really matters at this point. gwen: it seems to me that one of the things they made up their mind to do, the president, the white house, has made up its mind is forget about congress. we're never going to get them to agree so let's do things by executive action. >> one foot on the brake and one upon the gas. they started after the inauguration, dan pfeifer, president's senior advisor said we don't have a willing partner there with the republicans. very hard charging, we won the election. this question of these big entitlement versus taxes questions, they've been add jute caded -- adjudicated and we wouldn't. and they had congress -- republicans in congress on the run in terms. fiscal cliff deal. they got republicans where they wanted to be. but that was it. they couldn't press their advantage any further. and the president adapted pretty quickly and went to this outreach strategy. he had paul ryan for lunch to the white house for goodness' sake. gwen: the charm offensive. >> the charm offensive in which he looked for the common sense caucus. going back to the 14
republicans jeff talked about who voted for immigration, comprehensive immigration reform. the president trying to put together a group on the budget in the hopes that an agreement with them would carry some weight over into the house. that effort is pretty much dead. it's still -- bushels along a little bit. -- burbles along a little bit but the president trying to get something done before it runs out on his second term. >> and that could not have hurt. and that was at play here in the immigration bill. even if nothing happens in immigration long term, the white house still viewed that as a major victory. getting 14 republicans. and in this moment of time, it was. i spent most of my time in congress these days watching things. it's hard to spend time covering a deal. most time you're covering -- it was really fascinating to see things being thrown in for people. sweeteners and things and it was as close to a big deal as we've seen in a while. and probably will see -- >> which if it does get through the house it will be seep as a real change in -- seen as a
real change in washington. >> i'm not sure the white house can take much credit for imimmigration. >> he stayed out of it. >> patient. >> that's right. >> the strategy of how they were doing it and working behind the scenes. the white house had a war room in one. senate office buildings and they were working very diligently behind the scenes. and not making this lke the obama plan. >> obama himself is calling around now trying to get people to put pressure on republicans in the house. >> and that's a way in which some senate republicans have arc you'd that the distractions -- have argued that the distractions helped. it allowed them to do quiet work on immigration. and for a president who has to learn quickly, particularly in a second term, how to apply different methods. we saw him on the gun control message and using the bully pulpit as much as he could but on immigration they knew these strategy was the opposite. if he put his name on it too much and out there too much, he would scare people, republicans. gwen: does that help his job approval? we see these numbers and they go up and down and much discussion about second term slumps and whatever. but he doesn't seem to be
sinking like a stone. he actually seems to be, and meanwhile, congress still bumps along at 10%. >> there is a resiliency in some respects it's because him compared to who? he still looks more attractive, his approval so much better than the republican party. certainly than congress. the white house has a lot of problems. and a lot of things on their plate but they have a better approval rating than congress. >> even the press has a better approval rating. >> that's true. >> also the improvement in the economy is giving his polls a ttle lift and if the economy wasn't doing better might be -- gwen: is he a lame duck yet? have we reached the point? they say when they take office in the second term you got at most a year 0 get things done and everyone looks at you as lame duck. has he put that off for a minute? >> it depends. you could argue that he was stuck in lame duck in a sense. right after he won the election. because the players didn't change. the majorities were roughly the
same. and his -- this calcified partisanship in washington that he had before the election and that wasn't changing after the election, that that limits his options. and so his options were limited with republicans are going to move on immigration because they feel pressure from their own political fortunes, not because of anything the president does. but there's still many things the president can do that are powerful. he's doing it on climate change with e.p.a. regulationings. he's going to be able to name some supreme court picks at the end of his term that. could change people's lives in huge ways. >> and federal reserve chairman. >> and new federal reserve chairman. so a lame duck in terms of the old fashioned work with congress, make a deal. but that may be an outdated moded way of looking at things. gwen: you talk about bipartisan ship, is that dead? >> i'm not sure it's been alive since 2010. divided congress has not lent itself to bipartisanship. if he does want to have any kind of productive legislative efforts in miss second term the white house has got to figure
out a way to communicate with the republican-controlled house. and -- >> the biggest thing going forward for the next half of this year is the fight for the control of the senate. it is taking shape. and this is going to shape and affect the final chapters of this administration. this president's term. if republicans would happen to win only six seats and need to pick up six seats they win control of the senate. and boy, wouldn't that make a 2015 and 2016 interesting if mitch mccommonly is the majority leader -- mitch mcconnell is the majority leader presuming he wins. gwen: the pivot to 2014 and 2016 are you looking forward to it? >> as jeff said, yeah. name supreme court picks and the e.p. parks regulations and lot -- e.p.a. regulations and -- gwen: thank you all very much. that was a nice report card. and i didn't make you give grades so you can thank me for that because i could come back later. only six months to go before the year-end round-up. we'll have more to say about
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